clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Trouble With Lefties

Boone Logan's recent improvement hasn't stopped the Yankees from trying to upgrade their lefty relief corps. (AP)

Shortly after I ran yesterday's item about the bullpen, the Yankees announced that lefty J.C. Romero, who had made 11 appearances for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, had been granted his release after requesting it. The 35-year-old veteran of 13 big league seasons has now passed through three organizations this year, from Philadelphia to Washington to the Yankees. While his numbers at Scranton were superficially appealing (10/5 K/BB, a 2.92 ERA and a .174 batting average against lefties — that's 4-for-23 — in 12.1 innings), the Yankees had concerns about his diminished fastball velocity. He's the second veteran southpaw to opt out in recent weeks without getting the call, the other being Randy Flores. Lefty, we hardly knew ye.

Thus the Yankee bullpen still has just one lefty in residence, Boone Logan. After a rocky start to his season, the 26-year-old southpaw has come around thanks to a lowered arm angle. Joe Girardi pinpoints the Cincinnati series in late June as a turning point for Logan; after hitting the only batter he faced on June 20 — his first appearance in eight days — he came back to retire both hitters he faced two days later. The numbers before and after:

Split       IP   HR UBB  SO  IR/IS   BABIP      vs LHB
Thru 6/20 16.0 1 7 11 17/2 .288 .300/.391/.425 (7/4)
Since 13.2 2 3 20 21/6 .324 .206/.243/.500 (17/1)

The case isn't quite as clear-cut as Girardi makes it seem thanks to the two homers and worse luck on balls in play, which is to blame for the inherited runner problems, but the difference in strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio (including he ones against lefties at the far right) are emphatic. He's retiring a much greater portion of lefty hitters lately, and allowing far fewer balls in play; his strikeout percentage against lefties has jumped from 15 percent in the first split to 47 percent in the second.

Logan was in the spotlight on during the Red Sox series, largely due to his bases-loaded strikeout of Adrian Gonzalez in the fifth inning on Friday night. ESPN Baseball Tonight host Steve Berthaiume went a bit over the top in declaring that the strikeout won the game, but his note that the "Red Sox don't have that guy right now" is true. The Sox are carrying two lefty relievers in Franklin Morales and Randy Williams. The former is a 25-year-old former blue-chip prospect who has a 4.83 ERA and 5.1 walks per nine through 120 big league appearances; in 62 plate appearances against lefties this season, he's yielded a .231/.328/.481 line, slightly worse than the .230/.309/.426 mark he's allowed in 68 PA against righties. The latter, who's been getting the higher-leverage work of late, is a 35-year-old who in 97 career appearances has compiled a 5.82 ERA while walking 6.3 per nine; in 19 PA against lefties this year, he's yielded a .250/.368/.375 line with three walks and two strikeouts, and his career mark (.253/.356/.420) is good only when you compare it to his .329/.445/.503 line against righties, whom he's managed to face 53 percent of the time. With numbers like those, Logan starts to look like the second coming of Jesse Orosco.

The ability to handle lefties is a key facet of any championship hopeful given the number of key lefty bats in contenders' lineups. The Sox have Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, the surprising Josh Reddick and the improving Carl Crawford. The Yanks have Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. The Tigers have Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch, who aren't particularly heralded but who rank among the team's most effective hitters. The Indians have Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo, though those guys have been only intermittently available this year, and for the most part aren't what they used to be. The Rangers have Josh Hamilton, though not much else. The Angels' sole lefty regular is Bobby Abreu, who ain't what he used to be, either. Looking at how those contenders' staffs have fared against lefty hitters:

Rk  Te    AVG/OBP/SLG     sOPS+  K/UBB 
3 BOS .237/.311/.378 90 2.24
5 LAA .257/.321/.376 93 2.34
8 NYY .259/.325/.398 99 2.60
9 DET .256/.329/.395 100 2.23
10 TEX .258/.326/.418 105 2.39
12 CLE .279/.335/.435 112 1.99

Those numbers include the performances of starters, which for the Yankees includes CC Sabathia and for the Sox includes Jon Lester as well as Andrew Miller and Erik Bedard, the latter of whom just arrived via trade. The Yankees are decidedly middle-of-the-pack; those ranks at left are in sOPS+, their park-adjusted OPS+ relative to the league split. They're better in that regard than most of their potential first-round opponents, but not the Sox. Mitigating that somewhat is the fact that their 20.0 percent strikeout rate against lefties is the league's highest, just ahead of Boston and Detroit (19.1), making their strikeout-to-unintentional walk rate the best among contenders as well.

Manny Banuelos' promotion and eventual bullpen destination (steady now, we're only talking this fall) is a sign that the Yankees will continue to tinker around the margins with their lefty situation, even though it makes less sense to carry a pitcher whose only merit is his handedness instead of another righty; then again, we're talking about the postsseason roster spot of the fifth starter, who otherwise wouldn't be likely to see action.

It wouldn't be a huge surprise — though it would be murderous irony — if the team kicks the tires on the 41-year-old Arthur Rhodes, who was just released by the Rangers. Over the years, the Yankees have punished him like he stole something, battering him at a .298/.383/.520 clip for a 7.43 ERA, and that's not even including the playoffs; the 2000 ALCS turned on his inability to conquer David Justice. This would be a clear case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," but with six homers allowed in 24.1 innings (two to lefties in 42 PA en route to a .216/.310/.405 line), he's no sure thing at this point in his career. Still, the interest of no stone(worthy) left(y going) unturned, you can bet both the Boston and New York front offices will reach out to him. That's just the way it goes in this arms race.